Test drive: Maserati Levante

Maserati follows other luxury car brands and switches focus to the SUV market with the debut of its Levante.

March 5, 2017

You can’t blame luxury and sports car manufacturers like Maserati, Bentley, Jaguar and even Lamborghini for getting into the SUV game. While sales in their traditional categories are down by more than 20 per cent, the big, moneyed off-roader segment has climbed 40 per cent in the past five years alone.

The Middle East together with North America are the first markets to get the Maserati Levante with deliveries to Europe, Asia and the rest of the world starting in the first quarter of 2017. EDGAR was among the first to get behind the wheel and see what it’s like, not only off-road, but also on road and – because it’s a Maserati – on the track as well. 

The Levante was tested on five continents and in temperatures ranging from minus 38 degrees in the Arctic Circle to 50+ degrees in the UAE desert. Based on the Ghibli, it uses the same Q4 torque vectoring AWD system but is predominantly an on-road performance based car with the ability to venture off-road occasionally.

Our time was split between the UAE where we ventured on to hard sand only which the Levante handled with ease. Then we visited Italy to take part in the Master Maserati driving course that now includes the Levanté off-road course in Palma, north of Milan. 

For Euro 3,550, new and prospective owners can take part in the one and a half day course that includes on-and off-road activities as well as the chance the go for a blast in Maserati’s other models such as the Quattroporte, Ghibli and GranTurismo coupés.

Driving with the guidance and skill of a professional driver, the course is tailored to give the opportunity to try out the full perfor- mance range of the Levante from mild to wild, on- and off-road, but in complete safety and on private property away from other motorists and police radar. 

In one session we discovered its handling dynamics through a slalom course on the racetrack as well as its wet weather grip, stability and braking performance during emergency lane changes.

A few minutes later it was hot laps with an instructor alongside giving tips on how to extract the maximum from the car at speed with everything filmed on GoPros and logged telemetry data, which we reviewed later on the laptop over an espresso.

After finding out what it’s like on road, the course moved to the hills and muddy terrain where the Levante’s hill descent control was put through its paces as was its impressive 250mm ground clearance, 50mm wading depth, 20 degree breakover angle, 22 degree approach angle and 26 degree departure angle.

Meaning that with the suspension in the highest setting, it made short work of climbing over ruts and large rocks, cresting small rises and climbing and descending steep, loosely covered, low grip hills.

It was at this point when thinking back to its on-track performance, clocking 200kmh heading into a heavy braking zone and topping 220kmh on the straight with ease, as well as the design practicality of being a five-door estate, that I properly appreciated the incredible versatility a high performance SUV like the Levante provides.

Then there’s the exhaust note from the Ferrari-designed and built V6, which ranges from mild in most situations to fruity for a family wagon when you place it in Sport mode. But as it’s not the V8, it lacks the aural punch of Maserati’s saloon and coupé range. Helped along by an eight-speed automatic transmission with super smooth shifts, in most cases it sends 100 per cent of the power to the rear wheels only but in less than 50 milliseconds, the Q4 all-wheel drive system can split it 50/50 front to rear when traction is needed over the nose. Additionally there’s also a limited slip diff to guarantee traction via the old mechanical way and it features air suspension with six ride height levels for off-roading. 

The five settings are essential as when it’s set in its lowest position, Levantehas the lowest ride height and the most aerodynamic profile in its class, which is perfect for the track work.

While body roll was minimal, there was a bit of wind noise from around the windows at speed, though in anything other than flat out situations you’d be hard pressed to notice it.The wind noise is likely due to the Levante carrying over Maserati’s pillarless doors from the saloons, which admittedly look great and is a first for a car of this size.

The concave grille is the focal point and the flow of the front fenders, the squinting Bi-Xenon and LED headlights and the Trident badge all help to accentuate it. 

If you like leather and wood then you’ll love the interior as it is everywhere, from the seats to the door trim and dash which is dominated by an 8.4 inch touchscreen panel that recognises drag, scroll, swipe and rotate gestures just like a tablet and also includes Bluetooth and navigation. The centre console houses the drive mode selector, a rotary knob and the air suspension switches, while the classic Maserati analogue clock remains at the top of the dash.

Standard equipment comprises cruise control, hill descent control, rain sensing wipers, keyless entry and a power lift tailgate with a kick sensor, while options fitted to our test car included a full panoramic electric sunroof and the 1,280-watt Bowers and Wilkins Surround System with 17 speakers.

uae.maserati.com 

Specs:

  • Engine: 3.0-litre, turbocharged V6
  • Power: 430bhp @5,750rpm
  • Torque: 580Nm @1,750rpm
  • Transmission: eight-speed automatic
  • 0-100kmh: 5.2 seconds
  • Top speed: 264kmp
  • Price: AED 329,000